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  • Harry Potter Goes to France:Exploring Erik L'Homme's Le Livre des Étoiles (Book of the Stars)
  • Sarah Cantrell (bio)

Magical teenagers are in demand these days. From Disney's recent film, The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010) to Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci Chronicles, Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, and most notably, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, the education of the adolescent magician has proven to be a remarkably successful literary formula.1 Yet even as the study of fantasy continues apace in Anglophone scholarship, French responses to young adult fantasy are rarely a subject of comparative study. Writing in La revue des livres pour enfants, Stéphane Manfrédo notes that "les personnages d'apprentis magiciens pullulent, de Guillemot dans Le Livre des étoiles d'Erik L'Homme au célébrissime Harry Potter" ("sorcerers' apprentices swarm forth, from Erik L'Homme's Guillemot in Book of the Stars to the world-famous Harry Potter"; 85). Manfrédo is not the only French scholar to notice how "the Harry Potter effect" has transformed French writing for children and adolescents. Philippe Clermont, Anne Besson, Denis Labbé, Jacques Goimard, and Guillemette Tison all survey the intersection of French and Anglophone fantasy narratives, even as Anglophone scholars have left this field under-explored.2

In an effort to redress this imbalance, this article examines how French author Erik L'Homme's Book of the Stars trilogy (2001-03) plays upon and departs from its parent-text, Rowling's Harry Potter cycle (1997-2007). In her Critical History of French Children's Literature (1998), Penny Brown notes the "clear affinity" (241) between L'Homme's work and Rowling's, as does French scholar Raymond Perrin, who defines Book of the Stars as "la première trilogie française de fantasy proche de Harry Potter . . ." ("the first French trilogy of fantasy close to Harry Potter"; 256). L'Homme himself explicitly claims Rowling's work as the raison d'être for his own [End Page 47] series: "Je ai dévoré Harry Potter, je l'ai adoré, et je me suis dit qu'il allait être très difficile d'écrire après" ("I devoured Harry Potter, I adored it, and I told myself that it was going to be very difficult to write after it"; qtd. in LaCube). Because the rise of French fantasy is virtually unknown in Anglophone scholarship, this article begins by discussing fantasy's new-found legitimacy in France. Subsequently, this article considers how L'Homme's three parallel worlds (The Realm of Ys, The Certain World, and the Uncertain World) engage in ecological consciousness-raising and an appreciation of diversity. Despite these twin tendencies, my reading also reviews the ways in which L'Homme's trilogy unwittingly perpetuates the same colonizing impulses it critiques, suggesting that the movement toward alterity—which children's literature often celebrates—is perhaps a more difficult transition than we might wish to believe.

La Fantasy: A Genre Transformed

In the last two decades, young adult fantasy in France has undergone a seismic shift from its erstwhile position as sous-littérature or mauvais genre to what Sandra Beckett calls "the darling of the literary marketplace" (161), which echoes Tom Shippey's argument that "[t]he dominant literary mode of the twentieth century has been the fantastic" (vii). French scholars agree. For André-François Ruaud, "la fantasy s'impose définitivement comme la figure de proue de l'imaginaire en notre début de XXIe siècle" ("fantasy is definitively imposing itself as the foremost figure of the imaginary at the beginning of the 21st century"; "La Fantasy" 161); Jean Perrot calls fantasy "le créneau commercial par excellence" ("the commercial niche par excellence"; 93). Although Anglophone scholars accept fantasy's popularity with no surprise, the genre's ascendance has been less visible in France. Chronicling fantasy's "arrival" in the magazine Lives Hebdo, Laure Bourdoncle explains that the true measure of the genre's status is not its strong sales figures, but its acceptance within the French academy: "Les doctorants n'hésitent plus à rédiger des thèses sur le sujet et les éditeurs à les publier" ("French doctoral students...


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